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Why Managers Are Central to an Agile Culture

Why Managers Are Central to an Agile Culture

Story Highlights

  • The quality of your managers determines whether your company is agile
  • An agile mentality needs to permeate the entire employee experience
  • Companies must get the manager experience right to build an agile culture

This article is from The Real Future of Work: The Agility Issue. Download the full digital publication today.

The old axiom "adapt or die" has never been more relevant than it is today. Consider just three rapid changes organizations are confronting:

  • radically shifting customer demands
  • lightning-fast advances in technology
  • new demands from the emerging millennial (and even younger) workforce

Organizations that don't have the capacity to adapt quickly to trends such as these will be passed by their competitors -- or even put out of business.

How can organizations effectively respond to this rapid-pace change in the marketplace and workplace?

There's growing awareness that organizations need to be far more agile. Unfortunately, most aren't.

Only half of employees globally clearly know what's expected of them at work -- it's hard to respond quickly and nimbly when you're not sure what your responsibilities are.

And most employees are unclear about what their organization stands for, while fewer believe strongly in their organization's values.

There's a reason leaders cite "culture" as an important priority.

Agility, if it exists in an organization at all, is dictated by culture.

Is your culture fiercely customer-focused and responsive? Or is it inwardly focused and traditional -- more driven by bureaucracy and process than by reacting quickly and effectively to customer needs?

Gallup research has found that if an organization aspires to be agile, its culture must have the right mindset and the organization needs the right tools and processes.

Only half of employees globally know what's expected of them at work -- it's hard to respond quickly when you're not sure what your responsibilities are.

An agile mentality that quickly meets customer needs has to be reflected in the design of the employee experience in each of the employee life cycle stages.

Is your approach to recruiting, hiring, onboarding, engaging, driving performance expectations and development reflective of an agile mentality? Do your tools and processes promote speed and responsiveness, or do they create more work and barriers?

Restructuring your organizational chart isn't enough.

Ultimately the quality of your managers will make or break whether your culture is agile.

This is the case whether you operate within traditional, single-reporting lines or if the people management function is split between multiple roles in a matrix structure.

The problem is, managers (team leads, SCRUM masters or anyone else tasked with people leadership responsibilities) can be roadblocks to your purpose and to agility when they:

  • don't translate new priorities effectively
  • don't involve people in setting goals
  • blame "the company" when changes create challenges
  • don't cooperate with other managers or share information
  • don't have continuous conversations with their employees.

On the other hand, great managers create your agile mentality when they:

  • engage your workforce
  • manage performance
  • coach and develop effectively
  • work well with other managers

They embody and inspire the organization's mentality and filter all of your tools, processes and priorities to the employees.

Technology and tools need to be intuitive and easy to use.

Managers influence this, too, by encouraging people to come up with better and more efficient ways to get work done, eliminating roadblocks.

Is your culture customer-focused and responsive? Or inwardly focused and more driven by bureaucracy than by reacting quickly to customer needs?

They do this through continuous communication with their teams and strong relationships.

But managers can't do it all alone -- like employees, they need development and support from the organization.

For example, HCM systems need to be intuitive and easy to use for managers, who should be spending their time developing the strengths of their workforce rather than battling technology.

A culture of agility can't happen unless organizations first get the manager experience right.

If managers work against one another -- if they aren't managing through clear expectations, ongoing coaching and accountability -- there is little chance your organization will ever have an agile culture.

This article is from The Real Future of Work: The Agility Issue. Download the full digital publication today.


Jim Harter, Ph.D., is Chief Scientist, Workplace for Gallup and bestselling author of Culture Shock, Wellbeing at Work, It's the Manager, 12: The Elements of Great Managing and Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. His research is also featured in the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller, First, Break All the Rules. Dr. Harter has led more than 1,000 studies of workplace effectiveness, including the largest ongoing meta-analysis of human potential and business-unit performance. His work has also appeared in many publications, including Harvard Business Review, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and in many prominent academic journals.

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